Wearside Echoes: Hitler’s plans to destroy Sunderland revealed

German target photograph of Sunderland fouynd by Bill Woods of Herrington after the war in Germany.

German target photograph of Sunderland fouynd by Bill Woods of Herrington after the war in Germany.

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PHOTOGRAPHIC proof of Hitler’s plans to bomb a Sunderland landmark during the Second World War is today published for the first time.

A picture taken from an instruction film made for Luftwaffe bomber pilots, featuring aerial views of Sunderland, shows an arrow pointing to the Wearmouth road and rail bridges.

“The German word Brücken, meaning bridges, is typed alongside,” said former RAF man Bill Woods, who acquired the little piece of history while serving in Germany at the end of the war.

“By sheer coincidence, my own house is also shown. It was pure chance that I was given the picture in the first place. To then find my family home was also shown was absolutely astonishing.”

Bill, the son of confectionery shop owners Ernest and Blanche Woods, was born in Roker Avenue in 1920 and attended the Junior Technical School in Villiers Street until the age of 15.

“My first job after leaving school was in the general office at Vaux,” he said. “But I later moved to the cashiers department before signing up for the RAF in 1941.

“There was no question that I could have ever been a pilot as I’d had quite a bit of illness as a small child, but I wanted to join up and finished off as a stores accountant.”

Bill served across England and Wales during his time with the RAF, including an eight-month stint at Usworth, before finishing his five-and-a-half year service in Germany.

“One day, after the end of hostilities, I was on a casual visit to a small town near Gütersloh, in north west Germany, when I met a group of British servicemen,” he recalled.

“They were strangers, but we struck up a conversation and one of them said to me: ‘You’re from the North East aren’t you?’

“I replied ‘yes’, although I didn’t mention Sunderland at that point, and he handed me a strip of 35mm cine film, saying it might interest me. Apparently, he’d found it on a local dump.”

The black and white strip turned out to be part of an instruction film for Luftwaffe pilots sent to bomb Sunderland – prompting Bill to beg a frame from the servicemen as a souvenir.

“When I got back to camp, a friend in the photographic department made me an enlarged positive copy. On it, using the bridge as the focus, I was able to trace a line up North Bridge Street,” he said.

“From there, I could make out the Wheatsheaf corner and identify Southwick Road, Newcastle Road and Roker Avenue where, between the Wheatsheaf and Church Street, my house was situated.

“Goodness knows how high the plane which took the footage was flying, as you can’t make out the details of the house, but Luftwaffe pilots obviously flew over Sunderland to spy before attacking.”

Death rained down from the skies over Sunderland during the Second World War, with shipyards, railway stations, factories and mines all targeted by the Luftwaffe during repeated raids.

Hotels, houses and landmarks such as the Winter Gardens, both Binns stores and the Victoria Hall were all demolished in the bombings, but the Wearmouth bridges both escaped serious damage.

“Although our home in Roker Avenue was obviously in a Luftwaffe target area, as shown by the film, we were never bombed as such,” said Bill, 90, who now lives in Middle Herrington.

“One of the windows of the shop was completely sucked out by a blast, remaining boarded up for many months, but we were lucky. As for the bridges, well they are still with us today!”

* Do you have wartime memories you would like to share? Write to Sarah Stoner at Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER or email sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk. Twitter: @WearsideEchoes

Sidebar:

SUNDERLAND was one of the eight most heavily bombed towns in England during the Second World War – and the worst hit north of Hull.

Hitler’s Luftwaffe brought death and destruction to Wearside in 42 air raids resulting in casualties and/or damage.

“The first raid took place on June 27, 1940 and the last on May 24, 1943,” according to the book River, Town and People by Geoffrey Milburn and Stuart Miller.

“There were 267 civilians killed and over 1,000 injured. A total of 28 ARP personnel were killed on duty.”

The worst raids of the war were also the last. Dozens of bombs were dropped on May 16 and 24, 1943, leaving more than 150 people dead.

“Preparations were put in hand for further attacks, but the town’s ‘active service’ was over,” River, Town and People reveals.